1. The Majestic in Taihape, which continues to screen a range of interesting new releases.
2. The Civic in Otaki, which is undergoing extensive renovations. My hope is that screenings will return there, both for the Maoriland Film Festival and a regular programme.
.... but I am keeping an eye on new developments, in Oamaru and other places, and planning another trip to the South Island in July. In the meantime, I have had several memorable cinema experiences; the centenary celebrations at Everybody's Theatre in Opunake and, more recently, joining a near-full house in the Civic in Queen Street, for the premiere of Florian Habicht's new film JAMES & ISEY. A magnificent setting for a magnificent film, which is now in general release. Do get to see it.
I would love for the Civic to do more film screenings so I was pleased to see that Doc Edge 2021 has scheduled documentary screenings in mid-June.
Check out "Reel Life' feature by filmmaker and writer Tom Augustine, in the thankfully-revived monthly North & South March 2021 issue. Tom features several of my favourite cinemas, such as Everybody's in Opunake, King's in Stratford, Majestic in Taihape, but also laments the loss of others.
The lovely Everybody's Theatre (est. 1921) in Opunake is celebrating its 100 years of existence with a number of events in February 2021, with the major event being music and dance (in the 1920's style) on February 20th.
We will be there. I was told that Everybody's got a shout-out recently on the UK-based Kermode and Mayo's Film Review but I have not yet tracked it down.
Murray Thompson has directed my attention to a neat little film "Projection: 85 Years of the Projection Booth in Movies", available on Vimeo. It is an edited, 12 minute compilation of scenes in, or involving, projection booth from 40 films, featuring the near extinction art of cinema projection. It has a very long url but a search under the film title, or its creator (Joseph O. Holmes) should find it.
We can think on how fortunate we are in New Zealand, whilst other countries are still going through various forms of hell.
We took a pre-Christmas camping trip around Northland (which was fun) and I took the opportunity to visit a number of cinemas along the way (Kaitaia, Russell, Kerikeri, Dargaville) and they were all still open and offering a good range of films, even though times have been difficult.
A UK academic recently contacted me and asked me to comment on the state of film-going in New Zealand, and what effects COVID-19 has had on this. I thought I might share my responses here, to a number of questions he asked. I might be wrong or I might be right but these are my best guesses...
Your comments are welcome too
Q. How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the movie-going experience?
I can only address the New Zealand situation, even though I keep an eye on developments elsewhere (eg the fate of AMC in the US) through newsfeeds from Indiewire and Variety.
Life in near-normal here, with NZ topping the list of 53 countries in respect of its response to COVID-19 (in a just-released report from Bloomberg). Nearly all cinemas have been open since a return to Level 2 on May 14 2020.
The overall box office is probably down (2019 was a record year) but there have been no reports of individual cinema closures or multiplex chains going under (the latter are largely overseas-owned). Cinemas received wage subsidies during the March/April Level 4 lockdown.
Q. Are venues struggling? If so, are there any solutions or changes?
Probably some are but it is more to do with the supply of new releases, rather than reluctance of patrons to gather in public places (we have had recent rugby test matches, with crowds of 60,000+). Given the dwindling supply of big franchise films, the multiplexes are probably struggling more, whilst art house /independent venues have more varied fare. So there are more smaller films in circulation and recent releases eg I saw Spike Lee’s film of David Byrne’s American Utopia at the local Lido yesterday.
Local (NZ) releases are also advantaged by the reduced competition for screens and some of recent titles are doing well eg Baby Done. But I have noticed a greater convergence of film titles between the multiplexes and independent cinemas—this too may be due to what is on offer, with fewer American blockbusters (Tenet wasn’t the solution!).
Some independents are being quite inventive, through themed programmes or drawing on the back catalogue. Film festivals such as Doc Edge and the NZIFF went online this year, but from what I hear, they were not a great success. But our local film society has continued to attract a good attendance to our weekly screenings.
Q. Will coronavirus change how we watch movies permanently or temporarily?
Not sure. We may have to wait and see. In NZ, people welcomed the reopening on cinemas after an extended period of home confinement—but possibly more the social mingling, than any particular film. This could be the case elsewhere, once a vaccine is available.
The opportunities via Netflix etc may have become humdrum for some, and they are actively seeking the joys of the big screen. But it is difficult to ignore the attractions of Netflix when they produce such great series as The Queen’s Gambit and the film industry offers such slop as Made in Italy!
The new Mayfair Arts and Cultural Centre/Te Whare Toi o Kaikoura was officially opened on Thursday November 19th 2020, with the first screening in the new cinema (with seating for 95) on November 21.
The new Centre will continue to be run by local volunteers, who have devoted considerable labour to bring cinema back to this lovely town.
Much of the funding to rebuild the earthquake-damaged building came from Lottery funding but there was also significant community fund-raising--including $300,000 raised by the Kaikoura Community Opshop. All that remains of the original structure is the lovely pink and black facade (see image below) which invites you into a stunning new community resource.
Geoff Lealand was an Assoc Prof in Screen and Media Studies at the University of Waikato from 1992 to 2017. Now retired (not a word he favours), he writes social history, maintains this site, its Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as going to the cinema at least twice weekly.